Sunday, August 10, 2014

A tale of two knights

There was once a kingdom who's king was concerned about the current state of things. The kingdom was not what it used to be. There was less gold in the treasury, less wealth among the people and more famine and disease. Local fiefdoms and barons were challenging the power of the king. A few had even risen to be viewed as more powerful than the king himself.

Worried about this the king called for a meeting to review the situation and propose a solution that would restore the kingdom to the glory of times past. Many lords and knights the king could trust were invited to give him counsel. They met and talked over a long period of time. People became weary of the wait. So long it took that some even begun to question the king's right to rule. Yet after months of debating on the issues the king finally arrived with a plan that was put in motion and revealed to his people.

On a designated day the king addressed his people. He stood on the high tower of his castle with his counsel by his side and made an inspiring speech on the future of the kingdom. While some questioned it and others disliked it, it was in general well accepted. Among those who disliked it there were those to who the future was placed at risk with the new ideas and plans of the king. These rebel lords took notice of two knights among the king's counsel and made a plan to bring them down and possibly with them the king himself and his kingdom. These two knights had built a reputation among some members of the court of being boastful and sometimes lacking tact when talking. The rebel lords planned to use this to ostracize the two knights from the king's court. They fed stories, first to the court and then to the people, on how terrible these two knights were back in their land. The talked about untold stories of cruelty and abuse of power in their own barony. They took time to comment how poorly these two knights treated their subjects. That what the court and the people saw was but the tip of the iceberg of what was their true nature.

The knights infuriated by these stories began to challenge them. First in court while dining in the castle, jousting or going on hunts with other nobility. But as the story grew they took to the streets, to spread the word to the city folk who had heard about their supposed bad behavior. They were yelled at so they yelled back even louder. They were berated so they berated back even stronger. Slowly but surely the common folk begun to hear and understand the true nature of the knights and that the accusations were hearsay. Gossip placed on two knights from a far away barony.

It was a slow and demanding process that built a habit in the knights to go out everyday and clean their name. Eventually their names were cleared, but the habit stuck. The knights kept charging out in the afternoon on their horses. Going to the market or the docks or wherever the found it right to meet people and challenge them to clear their name. They had won, but they kept fighting. Their anger and fury was such that they could not stop.

This went on for weeks on end, but on a simple day like today, as the two knight spoke out in a plaza against the evil rebel lords and how their sole presence was a risk to the kingdom, an old and wise monk raised his voice to suggest they be less outspoken and more thoughtful of their words. That using such un-knightly terms and expressions to address the same issue over and over again would do them no good. .

The nights infuriated by the challenge though the monk was one of them trying to silence him and letting the voice of his enemies be heard instead. One asked "Old fool, why should I listen to you? Look at what has been done to me and how I've been insulted. I deserve to express my anger at these rebel lords as much as I please and let the people know what kind of scum they are. How dare you try to silence me. Why should I do as you say?"

The old monk simply replied, "Because you are still knights sire."

Image source

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Firearm Range in Saints & Sinners

Saints & Sinners, being a modern warfare RPG, focuses heavily on firearm combat. It has two types of ranges: the physical range to the target and the apparent range to the target. The first, the physical range, involves the weapon's quality and accuracy at a given range. The second, the apparent range, is how far the target is as seen by the character's eye.

The distance to the target determines how difficult the shot will be when using a given weapon. Players look up the range on the weapon's specs and this gives them a difficulty rating for the skill check. The skill check is rolled and modified by the penalties given by visual range. The further out the target or the smaller the target is the harder it is to aim well.

Scopes don't add bonuses, they shorten the visual range. A 3x scope will make something at 90m appear at 30m. The player then applies the much lower penalties for 30m than the higher ones for 90m. This simplifies the modifiers and the building of the character. As a player you only need one table on your character sheet that shows modifiers for the naked eye. All scopes can then be converted to this range using the scope's amplification. This simplifies things considerably, specially if your character has a variable scope on the sniper rifle.

This is the first post of a series of posts showing snippet of the game's concepts and mechanics. Saints & Sinners is available as a pay what you want download on Drivethrustuff. It's less than 70 pages long and includes a 4 page quick start guide that will get you up and running in a few minutes. I'm always looking forward to getting feedback on the game so if you've played it let me know about your experience as either a player or GM.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

The unbalanced game is more dynamic

Here's a thought that's been in my head that's derived from aircraft design (air combat is a hot topic in my mind these days so bear with me). Jet fighters are inherently unstable. You want them to be that way so they'll respond quickly. It's the pilot and the flight computer that keep them stable.

This has lead me to consider the following question. Are we doing a disservice to a tabletop RPG when we "balance" the game? When "balance" is done so every player has an opportunity to contribute and participate equally during a session are we using rules and game mechanics to solve a social problem which should be best solved socially? Is this "RPG flight computer" crippling the game? Making it more sluggish? Turning our "jet fighter" into a comfortable "jetliner".

Image source

Pulling punches when casting magic

I'm considering penalizing high level magic users for casting low level spells. Yea wohhahaha what you say! Here's the deal and it's not Vancian magic BTW...

Magic users use power (in this case magic points, aka mana). The more powerful the magic user the more magic points at his disposal. The magic user becomes used to working with a lot of "magical current". It's hard to open the valve for just a few drops of magic as it was when the wizard begun using magic.

I can easily get a single drop from a milk bottle and I might get one by slightly opening the water faucet, but it would be very hard for me to keep it to one drop when opening a valve to a 6" water pipe. Follow me so far?

Well here's the other aspect of the deal. Magic is a skill and as such it requires a roll. Roll ok and the spell succeeds, roll poorly and it fails, roll very poorly and bad things happen, but roll incredibly well and too much power comes out of your fingertips. Lower level spells have the risk of becoming overly powerful and draining more mana that was initially intended.

I think this can add an interesting spin to spell casters as wizards now have to operate in their sweet spot or risk being too powerful. The warlock tries to magic missile the poor little goblin in the barn and ends up nuking it alongside all the livestock in it.

Thought? Have you played with something similar to this? If so what was your experience?

Monday, August 04, 2014

Simo Häyhä - The Importance of Background Skills

Simo Häyhä was a farmer and a hunter who joined the Finnish militia like so many others. He was one of WWII's greatest snipers, scoring over 500 kills. What made him different from others who joined the Suojeluskunta (White Guard)?

I see many games initially limit the value of background skills to cap the character's strength, to leave room for improvement through experience points so something "of value" can be gained in the upcoming 40 levels. Is it worth it? Is it too much trickle and too little substance?

Simo Häyhä was good because he knew the area. I'd bet he wouldn't be such a great sniper in the African savanna. He was good because he practiced shooting after he got the training and prior to the war. He was good because he had experience tracking animals with much keener senses than humans. He was good because he had a good rifle, yet he didn't use a scope and relied on iron sights only. So he was damn good!

Question: how does background influence your character's career? I don't mean only during character generation, I mean all along. Do background skills couple with newly gained skills so together they are more than the individual parts? Can you envision skills creating synergy this way?

I'd like to see more of this in games. Not just backgrounds converting to a few pluses or bonuses during character generation, but rather something that follows the character for life and contributes to the character as it progresses.

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Does camouflage matter?

Nature has a long track record of using camouflage to protect species from predators and hide predators from prey until it's too late. Many of use have encountered mimic monsters or at least heard of them. Creatures that, true to their name, mimic items in a dungeon only reveal their nature when a party member gets too close. Other fearsome dungeon dwellers will appear to be normal stalactites only to drop on unexpected adventurers, piercing them through and through and killing them on the spot.

Yet there is more potential to camouflage than just the initial element of surprise. How often is it used to disengage from combat? A strike, displace and strike again strategy would require the party to reacquire their target. Camouflage can help when running away by reducing the distance before visual contact is lost. Camouflage becomes an important element in an encounter when engaging at long distance; be this arrows or magic in a fantasy setting or long range weapons in a modern or futuristic game. You can't shoot a target you can't see. Obviously the players can always do this:

Extremely inefficient in regards to ammo and also has the drawback of giving away your position.

How comfortable would you be if a game depended only on the hiding and spotting roll? Get seen and it's game over. How much would a game change if spotting and camouflage became a central element in an encounter instead of a modifier during the first round's initiative roll? How would this influence your perception of skill and proficiency when such skills work side by side with hit points to keep your character alive?